ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United States will maintain its military presence in Iraq and Syria to fight the continued threat of Islamic State (ISIS) and Iran-backed proxies, while it is keen to expand cooperation with its regional allies to deter the threat posed by Iran, the “leading source of instability in the Middle East,” a US department of defense official said on Tuesday.
The deputy assistant secretary for defense for the Middle East, Dana Stroul, identified Iran as a persistent threat to regional security and stability in a talk at the Wilson Center, a US-based think-tank. Stroul stated that Iran’s use of violent proxies, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), its ballistic missile program, and incidents of maritime aggression remain a security challenge.
She added that ISIS also continued to constitute a security threat, despite no longer holding territory in Iraq and Syria, and that US forces remain in northeast Syria (Rojava) to work with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against the militant group. Stroul added that these US troops in Syria “experience on a very regular basis threats from Iran and Iran-backed proxies,” referring to the attacks carried out against them over the past years.
ISIS attacked Hasaka’s Ghweran prison, housing thousands of the group’s members, leading to intense clashes in the area. Stroul commended the SDF for their “swift response” and added that the incident served as a reminder of the serious threat posed by ISIS. She stated that the SDF “shoulder the burden of the international community,” referring to the foreign nationals held in these prisons.
Stroul stated that Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin reaffirmed the commitment of the US to maintain US troops in Iraq and Syria in an advisory capacity to support them in the fight against ISIS.
“Regional security and stability” remains a priority to the US Department of Defense who is looking to expand its cooperation with regional allies to deter the threat posed by Iran, while also welcoming efforts by the US State Department to engage in diplomacy, likely alluding to the ongoing indirect nuclear talks between the US and Iran.
No change in policy will be seen with regards to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as US sanctions on Syria are to remain in place, and no plans of a normalization of ties are on the horizon.
Iraq announced the end of the US combat mission in the country in December, following increasing pressure from Iran-backed factions, with the role of US forces shifting to an advisory one.
There are currently about 2,500 US troops in Iraq, including in the Kurdistan Region.
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